Sunday, August 29, 2004

Bringing Up Father

Our church building was erected in 1910. The architecture is modeled after the European Cathedrals of that era, being long and narrow with high ceilings and many steps. In those days, people were not so concerned with access for people with disabilities. Wheelchairs were large and unwieldy. Anyone confined to one would not even attempt to attend Mass. In recent years, the Americans with Disabilities Act has brought accessibility needs to the forefront.

A few people left our parish because our previous pastor refused to even consider modifying the church entrance for accessibility. Perhaps he had more insight than for which we gave him credit. Most parishioners with a penchant to opine, chastised him soundly for his unwillingness to help the disabled get to Mass. They rejoiced when his replacement was announced. Finally, we will get our ramp! Well, it did not turn out to be that simple. Two years later, the struggle continues.

Retrofitting such a structure to make it accessible can be difficult if not impossible. The biggest obstacle has been coming up with a design which serves the purpose at a reasonable cost. While a ramp may seem like a simple solution, it is not. To meet ADA requirements, it must be about sixty feet long. Once a wheelchair is transported to the landing at the door, one more four-inch step awaits. The landing is narrow and the closest doors are too small to accommodate a wheelchair. The brick walls and arches over the doors make them impossible to enlarge.

Our parish council has come up with three possible designs to make the church accessible. All three have downsides. Two involve ramps and one involves a lift. All three require drastic modifications to the front of the church. None provide access to the church hall downstairs. Better solutions exist, but they are expensive.

Compounding the problem is a pastor who has little aesthetic savvy. A proponent of post-Vatican II modernism, he would not hesitate to desecrate the old to conform to the new, squeezing square pegs into the round holes if necessary. His emphasis on horizontal worship surfaces in the accessibility debate also. A meeting of the parish council was held earlier this month where a vote to select one of the three proposals was to be taken. Father provided those in attendance with a written statement which contained the following passage:

"Evidently the many stairs that led up to the Church proper reflected the poor theological mindset of that day, that is, God is 'up there' in the Heavens or riding mysteriously on some cloud and everything and everyone else was below. Recall the picture that depicted the hierarchical arrangement of Heaven & Earth in the older Bibles? As people finally ascended the stairs and entered the Church building they were drawn to that concept with the adorned ceiling that displayed such artistry and celebrated the Tridentine style of worship as to where the focus was magically and mysteriously 'up there'. The Communion Rail and Choir Loft both served to enhance such a concept."

I wonder where we ever picked up that "poor theological mindset." Perusing the New Testament alone, I found 42 references to God being 'up there' in the heavens. Include other passages in the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, Eucharistic Prayer I (Roman Canon), and the fact that we celebrate Christ's ASCENSION, it is not difficult to understand why we look up to seek God. Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord. Jesus Himself used this imagery frequently. Too bad none of the modernists were around then to correct Him.

Many Biblical accounts describe Jesus "looking up to heaven" when He performed miracles. (Mk 6:41, Mk 7:34, Matt 9:16, Matt 14:19) We read of angels descending from heaven (Matt 28:2), the Holy Spirit descending from heaven. (Lk 3:22) (John 1:32-33) "So then the Lord Jesus . . . . was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God." (Mk 16:19) ". . . . and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." (Matt 24:30) "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." (John 3:3) "For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." (John 6:33) And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself." (John 12:32)

There are many more. "For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead of Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air." (1Thess 4:16-17) "What does 'he ascended' mean except that he also descended into the [regions] of the earth? The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things." (Eph 4:9-10) [All Bible quotations are from the New American Bible.]

Are skyward images of God figurative? Maybe. Maybe not. The point is, Scripture teaches us to think in these terms. This 'mindset' was taught by Jesus, and alarms should go off when someone tells us His mindset was theologically 'poor'. Even if this image is personification, a sort of Divinity for Dummies concept of God, we cannot go wrong adopting it as Jesus did. Only by imitating His Human Nature will we someday partake in His Divine Nature.